Central Office Spending

If you read our last blog post, you know how much money OUSD spends every year. Now you might be wondering: How much gets to schools and classrooms? The short answer is: not enough.
The long answer involves how much is spent centrally, and we’ll get into that in a second. First we want to again ground ourselves in a challenging reality: Behind the vast majority of “central office” spending are real people who work hard every day in service of our children. So when we talk about “cutting” central or even re-allocating resources, people’s jobs and livlihoods are involved. Nevertheless, we must confront this challenge, which brings us back to the question of this blog post…
To answer the question of how much funding gets to schools and classrooms, we need to dig back into the largely overlooked report by Education Resource Strategies, presented to OUSD’s Board in June 2016. This was a comprehensive and detailed look at OUSD’s resource use (from 2014-2015) in comparison to similar districts in California and around the country. ERS is a well-respected not-for-profit group, OUSD paid a lot for the work, and staff spent a lot of time providing the underlying data – so let’s put it to use!
The ERS report confirmed what many have suspected: OUSD spends much more on the central office – about $30 million more – than comparable districts. Here’s the most striking slide to ponder:

Some details to note:

  • The comparison is among California districts, all of which are operating in a similar state funding and policy context (and, as we know, most of education policy and funding in the U.S. is driven by states).
  • These districts have similarly high-need populations, with many low-income students, and English language learners.
  • Many are also urban districts.
  • The comparison group includes comparably-sized cities such as Santa Ana and Sacramento.
  • Oakland has the dubious distinction of rivaling Los Angeles Unified and Stockton Unified with nearly the highest central office spending per pupil.
  • OUSD spent TWICE as much per pupil on central office as a district like Riverside, which has a similar student population and somewhat better outcomes on some measures, according to the new state dashboard.
  • If OUSD reduced its central office spending to the comparison group average, it would produce almost $14 million in savings: enough to completely close the current year budget gap and then some.

The ERS report makes the specific reason for this higher-than-average central spending even clearer in this slide: OUSD has more people and higher cost per person in several central office areas.

Those of you who have seen District financial presentations might be surprised by this information. The District has reported that over the past few years they’ve been directing more money to sites and away from Central. Some of you might not be surprised; other than long-overdue and much-needed double-digit salary raises for teachers and other school staff, school sites probably have not felt this shift.

We believe the disconnect can be explained by looking at a different set of publicly available numbers. Specifically, we think that the “shift” to reduce central office expenditures over the last few years have been achieved mostly through accounting decisions, rather than substantive changes in budgetary control to move dollars closer to students. We’ve reached this conclusion by looking at the Fast Facts provided by OUSD over the past few years:

In 2013-2014, the District had about 37,000 students served by 1,911 teachers, 1,391 “Other School Staff”, and 940 Central Office Staff. Then…

Suddenly, in 2014-2015, Central Office Staff has about 300 fewer people and Other School Staff has that many more! Our conclusion: the District simply changed the budget categorization for some staff from central to “other site”[1]. To be fair, this kind of change can theoretically help district staff feel more connected with and provide tailored service to school sites. We do know, from talking with school leaders, that sites didn’t receive a commensurate increase in budgetary authority. Principals could not say, “Instead of using these central services, we want to use those funds in a different way.”

[1] This is the fiscal year that ERS analyzed, and ERS used transaction-level information to categorize expenses in a way that would be consistent across the districts they studied.

In 2015-2016, there was not much change in the Central and Other School Staff numbers. So, despite the perceived and reported decrease in central office spending, it’s likely that OUSD continued spending significantly more centrally than similar districts.

The current year’s Fast Facts are bit surprising. Central Office Staff headcount increased by 13% or 88 employees, its highest level in three years. There’s not a corresponding decrease in Other School Staff. Did the Central Office really grow that much?


OUSD has been spending too much centrally and not enough at school sites. We hope the District has been making substantive (rather than accounting) changes in this area since the ERS report came out last year, and we would love to hear more from District staff on this.

It’s also probably not surprising that we’re having a budget shortfall if enrollment – which drives revenue – has been essentially flat and yet every year we’ve been adding more staff of all types.

Next week we are going to delve into variances in spending across school sites, exploring the equity question: is more money going to the students and schools who most need extra resources? What’s your prediction?

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How much money does OUSD spend?

Last week, after we launched our #OUSDBudget series, we received a lot of positive feedback from people out there trying to understand what’s going on. Not all were happy, though. This is painful for everyone – ourselves included as Oaklanders and public school parents – and our intention is to shed light on the topic, not to blame. We appreciate the hard job of District leaders and staff managing a large and complex organization faced with huge need.

We also want to recognize the outpouring of anger at the last Board meeting, reflecting the sentiments of many Oaklanders who feel wronged by the public education system. At the heart of all of this are real people working hard in the District and real students and families suffering the consequences when things don’t work well.

In order for us to have a more transparent and more productive public debate about the issue, we need to have the same information, so this installment covers a very basic question: How much money does OUSD spend each year?

Some quick stats:

  • Total: OUSD spent $705 million dollars last year. Of that, spending from the General Fund (which is the fund affected by the budget cuts) was about half a billion dollars.
  • On a per pupil basis: General Fund expenditures in 2016-2017 were $14,534 per pupil.
  • Historical comparison: OUSD’s General Fund revenues have increased 28% from 2013 to 2016.
  • Compared to other districts in the area: Overall, OUSD received 44% more funding than Fremont Unified, which has about the same enrollment (though a different student population). OUSD’s per pupil funding is among the highest of school districts in Alameda County.
  • Compared to other districts in the country: Oakland, along with the rest of California, ranks in the bottom fifth of per pupil spending, despite being richer than all but a handful of countries in the world.

In more detail: (Note: although the budget shortfall relates to this school year, we relied heavily on prior year reported financials to gather this background information, since they have been audited.)

Half a billion dollars: The “General Fund,” which is the main operating fund for the district, accounted for about three-quarters of the district’s expenditures in 2015-2016. The district spent $334 million in unrestricted funding, and $125 million from restricted funds. The Unrestricted fund within the General Fund is the part that has been the focus of the budget cuts. It’s the pool of funds that is the most flexible and it’s the basis of the state-required 2% reserve. It comprises less than half of the district’s spending, but is the pool that most schools’ day-to-day spending comes from. Restricted funds include money designated for specific programs (like Linked Learning), private grants (e.g. for school-based health centers), as well as federal Title I money and the LCFF “supplemental and concentration grants” which are intended to provide extra resources for high need students (e.g. low-income, English learner, foster youth).

$14,534 per pupil: In 2015-2016, the district had 35,348 in average daily attendance (ADA). Divide the total general fund expenditures of $515 million into that ADA and you get $14,534 per ADA. The state of CA is one of the few that funds on an ADA basis rather than enrollment, even though we obviously need to incur the expense for materials and staff for enrolled students, whether or not they happen to be sick on any given day (not to mention the cost of activities to combat chronic absenteeism, which costs the District millions per year in lost revenues).

28% increase over 3 years:  OUSD’s General Fund revenues have increased significantly over the past several years, thanks to the state’s new equity-oriented funding formula and voters approving Proposition 30 in 2012 and Proposition 55 in 2016. Three years ago (at the low point of post-recession General Fund revenues), OUSD received $401 million. The increase to over $500 million was the result of a significant increase in per pupil revenue from the state (from $11,623 to $14,426). Although OUSD’s ADA was 943 students lower, overall the district’s funding was up 28%.

More than other area districts, and many public agencies and organizations: Fremont Unified, which had about same enrollment as OUSD (33,400 ADA), had a third less General Fund expenditures in 2015-2016: only $334 million (out of $488 million total across all Funds). OUSD receives much more funding than Fremont largely because the latter’s student population is less than 30% English Language Learner and/or qualifies for Free and Reduced Price Lunches. On a per pupil basis, OUSD also received about one-fifth more money than the average district in Alameda County. For more context, OUSD’s total 2016 expenditures were a little over half that of the city of Oakland, almost double of AC Transit’s, 27 times bigger than the biggest Oakland charter organization, and almost 40 times bigger than the Oakland Museum.

Less than most districts in the country: EdSource recently broke down California’s per pupil funding. Although California’s “ranking” changes depending on the methodology, it is inevitably below the national average. If Oakland were really Brooklyn and got NY state level funding, OUSD’s budget would be over $828 million, not $500 million.

And not nearly as much as our students deserve:  What does it cost to provide a great education? Basic daycare is at least $12,000/year, tuition for private K-12 schools might be $25,000/year, and “elite” private schools can cost almost twice that. Yet our public schools, with much greater challenges to address, get significantly less per pupil. Oakland has roughly 15,000 children in private schools. If we assume $25,000 in tuition each year, that means Oakland parents are shelling out $375 million to fund private K-12 education – the equivalent of an entire unofficial school district. For a much smaller amount of funding, we could greatly improve our public school system and achieve better community integration.

Putting the budget cuts in context

With that backdrop of information about the total budget, we can begin to appreciate what it means for OUSD to cut $10 million: almost 3% of its $334 million unrestricted budget or 2% of its total General Fund…about the same amount that the district is required to have in its reserve.

Next week, we’ll delve into the question of how much money gets to our classrooms.

Until then, if you really want to go deep, here is all of the source data we pulled from, all publicly available, as well as links we pulled from.

  1. EdSource article on California’s per pupil funding: https://edsource.org/2017/how-does-california-rank-in-per-pupil-spending-it-all-depends/577405
  2. Blog on California’s funding inadequacy and how to fix it: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/californias-school-funding-crisis-two-ways-fix-dirk-tillotson
  3. OUSD:
    1. Budget page: http://www.ousd.org/Page/15885
    2. Historical audit reports: http://www.ousd.org/Page/12356
    3. Fast Facts: http://www.ousddata.org/announcements/new-fast-facts-2016-17-now-available
  4. Other Alameda County school districts: http://www.ed-data.org/
  5. City of Oakland budget about link: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/cityadministrator/documents/agenda/oak062974.pdf
  6. Alameda County Office of Education budget: http://archive.acoe.org/Business/ACOE-Budget-FY2016-17.pdf
  7. Oakland Museum of California annual report: https://issuu.com/oakland_museum/docs/omca-annual-report-fy14
  8. AC Transit budget: http://www.actransit.org/about-us/facts-and-figures/budget/
  9. Education for Change annual report: http://efcps.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/EFC-Revised-Audit-Report-2015.pdf
  10. Politifact analysis of California’s ranking as the 6th largest economy in the world: http://schoolspending.apps.cironline.org/county/alameda/district/oakland-unified/

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Real Talk on the #OUSDBudget

If you’re like me, you’re worried about the implications of Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) current budget shortfall. Across the city, our children already face major hurdles – lack of basic needs, housing instability and exposure to violence, not to mention the fear and anxiety stemming from the rhetoric and policies coming out of DC.

Now they’re being told they’ll no longer get to go to art class because that contract has been abruptly cancelled. Their teachers are being told not to use too much copy paper; and principals are being told it will be their fault for not adhering to the spending freeze if the district goes back into state receivership. This is unacceptable. Instead, we believe:

  • OUSD children deserve a stable and efficiently run school district that puts students first.
  • Teachers deserve to have the resources they need to do their job, which is already incredibly challenging.
  • Principals deserve to be treated as the smart and mission-oriented leaders they are.
  • The people of Oakland deserve accurate and timely information, which we are not necessarily getting.

That’s why we’re going to embark on a multipart series focused on the budget – Real Talk on the #OUSDBudget. Our intention is to help shed light on a complicated situation and suggest possible ways forward.

We fully recognize that as a state, California does not fund public education at the levels that our students deserve – but until that changes, we must do the best we can with what we have. We don’t think it’s helpful to point fingers or bemoan “what could have been.” Restoring fiscal health with the current budget shortfall will inevitably require district leadership to make hard trade-offs and unpopular decisions. We hope that more people will get informed and join the public discussion about what we as a city need to do to provide our students with what they need.

In this series, we’re hoping to provide information on the following questions:

  • How bad is it, really?
  • How can we recover?
  • How can we prevent this from happening again?

What the Experts Say

One of the best sources of information to better understand the situation are two reports by nationally recognized not-for-profit education research group Educational Resources Strategies (ERS). They dissected OUSD’s 2015-2016 spending, in comparison to similar districts around the country and across California. These reports, presented to the OUSD Board last year, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (of taxpayer money) and their results are compelling, though not entirely surprising:

  • OUSD operates too many schools for its student population – by a lot. Right-sizing to the median would require consolidating 30 schools. There are strategic reasons to want smaller schools, but there is a very real cost – and many OUSD schools are under-enrolled because families have rejected those options. Also, consolidations themselves won’t generate cost savings if poorly implemented.
  • OUSD spends more in its central office and less at school sites than comparable districts…with less-than-optimal results. This disproportionate spending is not just at the top, it’s at all levels, and holds true despite publicized efforts to reduce the size of central office over the past three years.
  • Resources are not getting to high need students equitably. OUSD essentially redistributes state LCFF per pupil funding to sites via central allocation decisions, leaving some high need students with much less than the state intended.
  • Special Education is especially costly in OUSD because of outdated programmatic approaches. To its credit, OUSD has already begun to make important changes to its Special Education delivery model – changes that are aligned with best practices nationally, are better for students, and that are more cost-effective. But these changes will take time to yield financial savings.

How Can you Get Involved: Reading, Other Resources, & Hashtags

For those of you who want to better understand the current budget situation, there are numerous existing resources and perspectives:

If you’d like to join in, please follow and begin using the hashtag #OUSDBudget. We’ll be posting our blogs at www.educate78.org/OUSDBudget.

This current fiscal setback is a reminder that we have a long way to go to creating the kind of schools we want for our children. However, we continue to believe that Oakland has the passion, talent and brilliance to create a thriving public education ecosystem for all students, anchored by a strong and stable district that supports and fosters innovative community schools. Getting through this current budget crisis will be an important step forward.

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An Exciting Time for Enrollment in Oakland Public Schools

Enrollment can be a unsettling time for public school families here in Oakland. Part of the problem – perhaps the biggest part — is lack of quality options. Parents and guardians worry that their child won’t get into a school that would be a great fit for their needs. In the spring, the notifications often raise more questions. The whole process is a time-consuming and costly effort: hours of online research, time off to attend school tours, spreadsheets to keep track of options and deadlines. It can be a virtually impossible task for the many families in our city, especially those without English language proficiency, internet access, flexibility, transportation, and time.

Fortunately, this year will be better for families. Oakland public schools have begun to modernize the enrollment process to make it more accessible, transparent, and equitable. Here are some highlights:

  • OUSD Enrollment Online: OUSD has a significantly improved enrollment website with more information and a way to apply online to district-run schools this year. Check it out: ousd.org/enroll. There are also “Options Fairs” (the two remaining will happen early next year) where families can get a free computer!
  • Enroll Oakland Charters: Oakland’s charter schools have banded together to create a single application process, virtually eliminating the different deadlines and applications which were so confusing. Almost all the charters are part of this single application. Here’s the link: http://enrolloak.org.
  • School Finder Online: This new online tool has lots of useful information about both district and charter public schools so families can more easily find the schools that meet their children’s needs. The online application tools for District and charter schools are both integrated with it. (And I’m very proud to say Educate78 provided funding to help get this tool created.)
  • Oakland School Performance Framework: The “Oakland SPF” is a truly remarkable new source of useful, comprehensive, and comparable data on OUSD schools. It’s helpful for families (and for leaders trying to improve schools). Kudos to the OUSD team – they’ve created one of the best school quality frameworks in the country. Educate78 is working to make sure charters join next year as part of the Equity Pledge work we are supporting.

Families still have time to research and apply: the first deadline is January 20. For a good overview with all of the dates, GO Public Schools has put together this handy graphic. Please help us share out this information to EVERY parent, guardian, and educator in Oakland. Information is power!

Even with these new tools, however, we must remember that what’s really needed is more good schools for families to choose from. We’ve been pleased to see that that schools across Oakland are headed in the right direction with many schools “On the Rise,” some hidden gems, and a couple of high schools winning external recognition for closing the achievement gap. With our School Design Lab work, we are trying to do our part to accelerate the process. We also hope to continue supporting more improvements to Oakland public school enrollment going forward.

Good luck with your research and thanks again for spreading the word about this exciting time for Oakland public school enrollment!

Post-Election Reflections from Inside Oakland Public Education

No matter who is elected President, life in Oakland is not a reality show, especially when it comes to our public schools.

Our reality is that every day our system is failing thousands of children. Our reality is that resources are scarce and the list of needs is long. Our reality is that we have incredibly talented people – across the city – who work together every day on behalf of all students.

It’s times like this when I especially appreciate being part of our vibrant Oakland public education ecosystem, with so many like-minded souls. Since the election, when I’ve asked, “How are you doing, really?” people know exactly what I mean. In the hugs, tears, and conversations that have ensued, I have found inspiration and motivation from the wisdom of our community:

Deep love for our children. Every educator I’ve met has stories of children bursting into tears, worrying about themselves or a loved one being deported, or simply being genuinely confused about what the election says about classroom lessons on compassion and respect. I’ve seen or heard about teachers and school leaders across this city demonstrating incredible thoughtfulness and purpose, finding ways (in and out of the classroom) to show students they are cared for and protected. Our students protested peacefully, our Superintendent shared useful resources to support educators in talking to their students about the election, and teachers have been reaching out to families. The conversations have only begun, and we must foster these fertile discussions.

Empathy and selflessness in community. Around the city, I’ve seen countless individuals set aside their own emotions about the election to attend to the needs of others. Managers have jettisoned time-sensitive agendas to provide space for employees to reflect, and people have nurtured their colleagues and friends with hugs, humor, and food. The day after the election, here at the Impact Hub (the co-working space where Educate78 is based), the founders spontaneously organized a community conversation that culminated in each person talking with someone they didn’t already know to ask, “What do you need and how can I help?” In emails and on social media, I’ve even seen posts from Clinton supporters urging empathy with Trump supporters who voted the way they did because they have felt misunderstood, marginalized, and disenfranchised. It’s a good reminder to those of us working for more opportunity in urban areas: there are people who have been left behind in our society all over the country in places that look very different than here.

Fierce determination and persistence. Many of my conversations with our elders, especially people of color who were active through the Civil Rights era, have been grounding. They have reminded me of our country’s history: progress followed by set-backs, forward movement followed by backlash (or “Whitelash” as Van Jones so eloquently put it), decisions to increase equity followed by injustice. They reinforced that over the long run, our country has grown into a better place for all racial, religious, and ethnic groups. They also reminded me of what it takes to ensure continued progress: all of us need to advocate for our principles, for greater justice and equity for all.  A friend reported that none other than Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can take a moment for tears, but then go get some rest and get back up in the morning and keep fighting for the children.” I heard versions of this from other elders in our community, and am inspired by their steely determination, continued commitment, and willingness to walk the talk their entire lives.

Optimism about local progress. Here in Oakland, we are also fortunate to have plenty of state and local wins to be grateful for: voters approved money for schools (CA Prop 51 and Prop 55, Oakland Measure G1) and reversed the ban on bilingual education. We elected a new state senator for our region, Nancy Skinner, a proven progressive with whom I look forward to working. The three Oakland housing affordability measures our Teacher Advisory Group members wrote about last week all passed with over 70% of the vote! We taxed sugary beverages; our kids’ teeth and overall health will benefit. And we re-elected the school board leaders that have been working towards a shared vision of quality education across Oakland’s 78 square miles.

Many of these local races were heated, I know, and it’s healthy that we don’t agree on everything here in Oakland; but overall this election was a reminder that we have much more in common than not: a shared commitment to move towards a more just community where all persons – regardless of zip code, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or disability – are treated with dignity and respect.

Whatever happens nationally, we are determined to continue to act locally: to support our educators, embrace our families, engage in respectful debate, and work together to ensure that every child in Oakland has access to a great public education. Our future depends on it.